Voyager 1 Fires Up its Old Thrusters After 37 Years

Voyager 1 Fires Up its Old Thrusters After 37 Years

They were for "trajectory correction maneuvers" (TCM), and while similar, they were supposed to be used continuously in order to change Voyager's direction as it maneuvered around Jupiter and Saturn.

NASA scientists are celebrating after firing a spacecraft's thrusters almost four decades since they were last used.

At 13 billion miles from Earth, there's no mechanic shop nearby to get a tune-up. However, almost 20 hours after firing up the backup thrusters, engineers received a signal from the Voyager back on Earth, which meant their test was successful.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 is the only spacecraft that has managed to cross the bounds of our solar system. It then headed out into the further reaches of our solar system and in August 2012 passed into interstellar space. Voyager Project Manager Suzanne Dodd said the new workaround would extend the life of the Voyager 1 project by two or three years.

In the early days of the mission, Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter, Saturn, and important moons of each. However, we can still communicate with Voyager across that distance.

USA space agency NASA has successfully fired up a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft after 37 years of being unused.




For making a communication with Earth, the spacecraft relies on small devices called thrusters and these thrusters fire in tiny pulses, or "puffs", lasting mere milliseconds, to subtly rotate the spacecraft so that its antenna points at our planet.

In anticipation of that moment, perhaps, a group of engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been kicking the tires on Voyager 1. The mood was one of relaxation, joy and wonder after observing these well-rested thrusters pull up the baton as if no time had moved at all. The need to use them is not as immediate, however, because the primary thrusters of Voyager 2 have not significantly degraded.

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) chief engineer Chris Jones said.

The team will switch over to the TCM thrusters in January, but there is a drawback: they require heaters to operate, which will draw on the probe's limited power.

Because of the success in the attempt to test Voyager 1's TCM thrusters, NASA plans to test the ones on Voyager 2.

To reawaken these dormant thrusters the team had to go back to the original Voyager documentation. The attitude control thrusters now used for Voyager 2 are not yet as degraded as Voyager 1's, however. It's expected to enter deep space within the next few years.

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